Subject to Debate

By Pollitt, Katha | The Nation, February 21, 1994 | Go to article overview

Subject to Debate


Pollitt, Katha, The Nation


I didn't watch much of Lorena Bobbitt's trial. I was too busy trying to locate the hordes fo feminists who, according to the media, were calling here a heroine and touting penis removal as a revolutionary act. Where were these people? The standard line on feminism, after all, is that it has been roundly rejected by American women--except for the odd antiporn frump and, of course, the campus P.C. crowd--and the reason for its unpopularity is its grim view of heterosexuality, its hatred of men and its insistence on seeing women as victims of male lust and violence. Even women who are feminists take this view. Naomi Wolf, Katie Roiphe, Wendy Kaminer, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, have all issued some variant of this diagnosis and come up with the same advice to the women's movement: Lighten up and stop complaining. Men are not, repeat not, the enemy. Betty Friedan has been saying this sort of things for years.

Now, suddenly, not only does the media insist that the country is teeming with feminists but it is precisely man-hating and rage and victim justification that have rallied the hitherto invisible troops. Even Katie Roiphe, who thinks date rape is mostly imaginary and the opression of women a thing of the past, has noticed that lots of women are really mad at men, and presented this remarkable finding on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, although she was unable to say what, beyond some Caliban-like darkness of the feminine soul, caused women to feel so aggrieved.

Well, let me be fair. The Times did manage to find a self-identified feminist who though Lorena was fabulous, one Stephanie Morris, who in a letter called her "a symbol of innovative resistance against gender oppression everywhere." But Morris was writing from Sydney, Australia. I call that reaching. Here in America, the feminists I've seen in print have made rather judiciously framed points, deploring violence while contrasting the big fuss made over John Bobbitt's penis with the business-as-usual reality of rape, wife abuse and, fro millions of women around the world, clitoridectomy. Indeed, while the Bobbitts were monopolizing the headlines, assorted husbands and boyfriends were committing mayhem on the inside pages, and Maynard Merwine, a history instructor at Lehigh County Community College, published a letter in the Times defending female genital multilation as "an affirmation of the value of woman in traditional society" and "a joyous occasion" for the girls involved. Maybe Stephanie Morris should drop by his office for a little chat.

As it happens, I know a number of women's movement heavies--writers, academics, lawyers--and not one of them had anything bloodcurdling to say about the Bobbitt case. "I don't care." "It's all so gruesome I don't even want to read about it." "Isn't she kind of borderline retarded?" One noted feminist theorist wondered if juries were too eager to absolve defendants of personal responsibility. It was like talking to George Will. The closest anyone would come to defending Lorena was to suggest that while, mind you, not condoning in any way slicing a male even as despicable as John Bobbitt (universal agreement there), you could sort of . …

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